4 personal vehicle response tips for EMTs
Read and follow your department’s policies on POV use, and drive safely
By Greg Friese
Last month, the State of Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that a volunteer firefighter "could be liable for injuries sustained in a resulting car accident." After stopping at a red light with flashing lights activated on his personal vehicle, the firefighter collided with another vehicle in the intersection. Because he wasn’t using an audible warning device, as called for in Wisconsin statute, the court ruled that he wasn’t “entitled to public officer immunity.”
In light of the risk of injuring yourself and others, as well as the possibility of additional damages that might result from a lawsuit for liability and negligence, significant caution is needed when responding in your privately owned vehicle. Here are a few ways you can protect yourself.
- Follow policy and common sense: Read and understand your state’s statutes and department’s policy. If, after doing so, you question whether the rules are actually appropriate to the risks involved in driving, you might choose to personally follow more stringent guidelines.
- Exercise due regard: Mumbling “I will practice due regard” is the emergency vehicle operator course equivalent of muttering “scene safe and BSI” at the start of an EMT class assessment station. Explain to yourself and others (like your spouse and children) specifically what “due regard” looks and sounds like. The conversation should include things like driving at or under the speed limit, staying in your lane, approaching all intersections defensively, and rarely attempting to pass other vehicles. Really dig in to “due regard” as it might apply to your vehicle, response area, and the loved ones waiting for you to come home from every call.
- Don’t be stupid: I can hardly believe I need to remind you of this, but wear a seatbelt and put your phone out of sight and out of reach while responding in your private vehicle. Voice activated smartphone texting and calling can be just as distracting.
- Focus: Anytime I read a report of an emergency responder killed in a single vehicle rollover, I assume they were ejected after overcorrecting from a distraction or excessive speed. Be focused on the task at hand — driving a very large vehicle at a higher speed than normal.
In the end, if “chute time,” the time from dispatch to ambulance enroute to the incident, is critical in your community, the best solution is to stage responders at the station. No amount of POV warning lights and sirens, public education campaigns, legislative changes, or other efforts will have as significant an impact on chute time as having people at the station awaiting the next call.